Fair warning: I am not Peter. My name is Ashley and I blog at Writing To Reach You. I recently asked the kind people of the internet for opportunities to guest blog, and Peter offered up this space and gave me the challenge of writing about fiction. In particular, he asked me why sharing fiction with other people is so much scarier than sharing non-fiction. I have some answers.
First, writing fiction is hard. I once heard (or possibly made up) the statistic that more than half of all Americans want to write a book one day, but only a very tiny percentage of them actually do. Why, I’m guessing, is because the only thing more discouraging than staring at a blank screen is putting words on that screen and being incredibly embarrassed by them. Your favorite authors probably make it look easy, but they are just really good at what they do.
It is difficult to be so bad at something that means so much to you. I am terrible at a lot of things, but I don’t list those things among my top interests! I can’t cook, but I don’t go around telling people I want to be a chef. I do tell people I want to be a novelist, and if they ask, I will admit that it’s a goal I have been working toward seriously since I was 16. I may be underselling myself here, but writing fiction is challenging and demanding enough that it leaves me with no real sense of how I’m doing. The confidence I have in my writing in general and the critical eye I use to read literature disappear when I am writing fiction, and when you don’t know how you feel about your own work, it’s hard to subject it to the judgment of others.
Second, fiction is so damn earnest. The easy thing about writing a blog is that you can hide behind layers of irony and self-awareness. You can give every disclaimer. You can speak directly to your audience and answer their criticisms before they even offer them. “What, this? I just threw it together in 15 minutes. And I was tired. It’s, whatever. Not my best work.” In a culture where we often judge people for trying too hard, nothing makes you more vulnerable than sharing something you have put all of yourself into. You can’t distance yourself from a stack of pages that took you months or years to fill with the experiences of people you have made up. Sharing your fiction means putting yourself out there and saying, “here’s a thing I worked really hard on.”
Third, it is hard to share fiction because it’s personal. Probably because it is so earnest, fiction often feels like my most personal writing (this from a person who writes a lot about feelings). I’m not always writing about myself. I’m usually not writing about myself. But you don’t know that. And, anyway, it doesn’t matter how big of an imagination I have, those thoughts are still mine. I belong to them. And if I wasn’t giving them to a character, then they would probably remain safe inside my little head.
So, why, given how difficult it is to write and share fiction, do I continue to do it? Because I love it, of course. Because I have something to say. Because I walk the stacks of the library where I work and dream of finding my own novels there some day. Because no matter how humbling it is, it moves me like nothing else. Because all big dreams are terrifying. Because the more I share, the less scary it becomes. So be kind to your fiction-writing friend, especially if she is you, but don’t let her get away without sharing.